In high school I had the good fortune to spend a year in Brittany, France with a host family. I was doubly blessed that Liliane, my host mother, was a famously good cook. Like my own personal Julia Child, she introduced me to French home cooking and taught me recipes such as this vinaigrette that I still make thirteen years later.
This is a zesty, acidic, highly flavorful salad dressing that doesn't taste heavy or greasy. It's so delicious, simple, and quick to make that you'll never want to buy bottled again. I like it over a softer lettuce such as butter, red or green leaf, or frisée (curly endive). The French serve lightly dressed lettuce after the main course as a palate cleanser. Try it with a hunk of crusty bread, a slice of fresh goat cheese sprinkled with cracked black pepper, and fresh fruit. For a heartier main course salad, top your lettuce with a poached egg and crumbled bacon.
For 1/3 of a cup of dressing, enough for about 6 first course salads, you will need:
1/4 cup good extra virgin olive oil
1-2 tablespoons tart vinegar (sherry, white, or red wine)
2-3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 clove garlic, grated or pressed (about 1/4 teaspoon)
Herbs, optional (I like fresh oregano or tarragon, but dried works too)
Using a fork or a whisk, mix together the Dijon, garlic, herbs, and vinegar in a medium-sized bowl. Now vigorously whisk in the olive oil until the mixture is emulsified and there is no separation between the olive oil and vinegar. (The mustard binds the oil and water together.) Taste and add salt and pepper.
Make sure your lettuce is well washed, dried, chilled, and torn into manageable forkfuls. Put about 2 tablespoons of dressing per salad in the bottom of your serving bowl, add lettuce, and gently toss. Taste the lettuce and add more dressing or salt and pepper if necessary. Serve immediately after dressing.